Word Propensity Study

By Larry Kirkpatrick

In some passages Ellen White uses the word propensities to describe something that must be controlled. In the first of these passages, notice the equation of passions with propensities, and the indication that Christ overcame by controlling both:

That your passions and appetites may be subject to the control of reason. . . . Our natural propensities must be controlled, or we can never overcome as Christ overcame. 4T 235

… Enabling men to bring all their propensities under the control of the higher powers . . . 3T 491

He brought his own family to his rigid rules, but he failed to control his animal propensities. 2T 378 (Note: Ellen White uses animal in the sense of biological.)

All animal propensities are to be subjected to the higher powers of the soul. AH 128

If enlightened intellect holds the reins, controlling the animal propensities, keeping them in subjection to the moral powers, Satan well knows that his power to overcome with his temptations is very small. MYP 237

It would therefore be this type of passions and/or propensities that Ellen White had in mind when she wrote of Christ,

Though He had all the strength of passion of humanity, never did He yield to do one single act which was not pure and elevating and enobling. IHP 155

He was made like unto His brethren, with the same susceptibilities, mental and physical. RH 2-10-85 (Roget’s Thesaurus lists susceptibilities and propensities as synonyms.)

So He had these passions and propensities but He controlled them, and so lived without sinning. This is the experience that is recommended to us:

We will now notice a very different use of the words passions and propensities.

Passions–Eliminate

In some passages, Ellen White uses the word passions to describe something that must be eliminated:

When [the grace of Christ] is implanted in the heart, it will cast out the evil passions that cause strife and dissension. DA 305

Unholy passions must be crucified. GW 128

The unsanctified will and passions must be crucified. 3T 84

Our . . . evil passions . . . must all be overcome. 3T 115

Whatever may be the evil practice, the master passion, which through long indulgence binds both soul and body, Christ is able and longs to deliver. DA 203

Fretfulness, self exaltation, pride, passion . . . must be overcome. 4T 527

And just as in the previous list we found an equation of passion with propensity, we find the same equation here:

[The wife] is made an instrument to minister to the gratification of low, lustful propensities and very many women submit to become slaves of lustful passion . . . . 2T 474

Although the following usages are only descriptive, it is apparent that simply controlling them would not be an adequate solution to the problem.

Depraved passions; base passions, base, low passion; hellish passions. 2T 474

Corrupt passions. 2T 410

Bitter or baleful passions. 2BC 1017

Gross passions. 3T 475

Murderous passion. PP658

Perverted passions. CD 238

Vicious passions. 2T 468

The Christian would accomplish little by simply limiting the indulgence of this type of passion, as would be indicated by the word control in the previous listing. This type of passion must be eliminated.

Propensities–Eliminate

Likewise, in some passages Ellen White uses the word propensities to describe something that must be eliminated:

But although their evil propensities may seem to them as precious as the right hand or the right eye, they must be separated from the worker, or he cannot be acceptable to God. TM 171-172

Nonsense and amusement-loving propensities should be discarded. MYP 42

Although the following usages are only decriptive, it is apparent that simply controlling them would not be an adequate solution to the problem:

Money-loving propensities. 3T 545

Scandal-loving propensities. 5T 57

Selfish propensities. 7T 204

Scheming propensity. 4T 351

Lustful propensity. CD 389

(Of these, it is encouraging to read:

We need not retain one sinful propensity. RH 4-24-1900)

It would therefore be this kind of passions and/or propensities that Ellen White had in mind when she wrote of Christ:

He was a mighty petitioner, not possessing the passions of our human, fallen nature, but compassed with infirmities, tempted in all points like as we are. 2T 509

He is a brother in our infirmities, but not in possessing like passions. 2T 202

Not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity. 5 SDABC 1128

——————————————————————————–

Conclusions

  1. Ellen White was aware of the fact that the same words must sometimes be used to express different ideas.
  1. We find an example of this problem in her use of the words passions and propensities. She uses both words in two different ways.
  1. She equates passions with propensities in each of the two different usages.
  1. In one usage, both words passions and propensities, are used to describe something that Christians must control, but that by the very nature of things, they must retain and cannot eliminate from their experience. In this usage she tends to link the word propensity with such descriptive terms as animal, human, natural, etc.
  1. In the other usage both words, passions and propensities, are used to describe something that Christians need not retain but must eliminate. Here control is not an adequate solution to the problem. In this usage she tends to link the word propensity with such descriptive terms as evil, sinful, lustful, etc.
  1. In her references to Christ, she indicates that He had one class of passions and propensities, but did not have the other. Thus her statements on that subject should be seen as complimentary and not contradictory. Let us place the statements together for comparison.

Passions

Though He had all the strength of passion of humanity, never did He yield to do one act which was not pure and elevating and noble. IHP 155 He was a mighty petitoner, not possessing the passions of our human fallen nature, but compassed with infirmities, tempted in all points like as we are. 2T 509*

Propensities

He was made like unto His brethren, with the same susceptibilities, mental and physical. (Roget’s Thesaurus lists susceptibilities and propensities as synonyms.) RH 2-10-85

Our natural propensities must be controlled, or we can never overcome as Christ overcame. 4T 235

Not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity. 5 SDABC 1128

(Note the distinction between natural propensities and evil propensities. These to her are separate categories.)

We should not force Ellen White to contradict herself by ignoring the fact that she clearly used both words in two different ways. Neither should we concentrate our attention on one usage and ignore the other. We should recognize the undeniable evidence that she saw Christ as having certain natural passions and propensities, and that He avoided sin by controlling them. The other type of evil passions and propensities, which are already sinning or the result of sinning, and which Christians must eliminate from their experience, Christ did not have at all.

So to take her statement, “Not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity,” and read it as if she had written natural propensity, and draw from that the conclusion that she believed Christ took to unfallen nature of Adam is unwarranted. It should rather be seen as an emphatic affirmation that He did not sin, which is also indicated by the construction of her sentence in its use of the conjunction but. This word is used, following a statement, to indicate that the opposite of that statement is true.

For example:

I could have gone but I didn’t.

She could have won, but she didn’t

This thought of contradistinction is not lost when other words are used in the second clause.

I could have gone, but I was busy

No one, reading this, would conclude that I went.

She could have won, but she was tired.

No one, reading this, would conclude that she won. The contradisinction indicated by the conjunction but precludes such a conclusion. So when Ellen White wrote:

He could have sinned, He could have fallen, but not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity,

We should understand this to mean emphatically that:

He could have sinned, but He didn’t.

Then we are not using her statement about propensities in contradiction of her many statements that Christ took the fallen nature of man.

The implications of the contrasting conjunction but should be held in mind as the student studies this passage:

Adam was tempted by the enemy, and he fell. It was not indwelling sin that caused him to yield; for God made him pure and upright; in His own image. He was as faultless as the angels before the throne. There were in him no corrupt principles, no tendencies to evil but when Christ came to meet the temptations of Satan, He bore “the likeness of sinful flesh. ST 10-17-1900

See [forthcoming webdoc] Appendix B, Ellen White Corrects Two Christological Errors for a discussion by Ralph Larson of the Baker Letter.

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